WSOP weekend roundup: Tran makes his presence felt

Compared to last year’s World Series of Poker, Kenny Tran has been relatively quiet in the early stages of the 2008 edition. That all changed, however, on Sunday when the 34-year-old walked home with a victory in one of the most popular and lucrative events played to date.

Known as one of the best cash player games in the world, Tran continued to add to his growing reputation as a feared tournament competitor by capturing the USD 10,000 Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em World Championship. The win not only gave Tran his first WSOP bracelet, but also added USD 539,056 to his bank account.

This is only the second time this event has been included on the WSOP schedule. Last year in the inaugural, 392 entries were accepted but after some players randomly drew a „bye“ and did not have to compete in the first round it was ultimately viewed as giving too much of an advantage to those players. Hence, the adoption of the single-elimination format with no byes this year meant that only specific multiples of entrants would be workable and it was decided that the tournament would be capped at 256 players.

And the last one standing from that group was Tran, who worked at McDonald’s when he first came to the U.S. from his native land of Vietnam. When he turned 21, he worked as a poker dealer. Then, he played recreational poker, mostly in low-limit games. He gradually moved up through the ranks to the point where he now routinely plays for six-figure sums amongst the toughest competition in the world.

Tran, a Full Tilt pro, enjoyed a breakthrough season last year when he finished 16th in the 2007 WSOP Main Event. He also finished 5th in the 2007 USD 50,000 buy-in H.O.R.S.E. championship and 16th in the inaugural WSOP Europe championship held last year. Now, he has won the 2008 Heads-Up No-Limit Hold’em World Championship. With Sunday’s win, Tran now has 12-career WSOP cashes.

„It means a lot to me to win, especially on Fathers Day,“ said the father-of-three, who had to win eight heads-up matches to earn the victory. „The first time you win this is really great and it’s just a great, great feeling. I have never really had this kind of feeling before.“

After disposing of Jonathan Jaffe in the semifinals, Tran moved on to face Alec Torelli in the best-of-three finals. Tran won the first match in 93 hands. The second match was nearly as long at 80 hands and ended when Tran called Torelli’s all-in and caught a flush on the river.

„I definitely have a strategy,“ Tran stated after his final heads-up win. „I grind them all out. I like to grind people out and make them feel bored. I just torture them and let them finally make a mistake.“

Torelli earned USD 336,896 for his second-place finish, but the player to watch out for next year may very well be Vanessa Selbst, who cashed in for USD 108,288 and finished third after being eliminated by Torelli in the semifinals. Selbst, who won her first-career bracelet last week in the USD 1,500 Pot-Limit Omaha event, also finished in the top four of the Heads-Up event last year, and is now 13-2 in this format the last two years.

Other former WSOP gold bracelet winners who cashed in this event included Lyle Berman, the co-founder of the World Poker Tour, Robert Mizrachi, Gavin Griffin, David Williams, Erick Lindgren, Michael Banducci, Justin Bonomo, Chris „Jesus“ Ferguson, Antonio Esfandiari, Ryan Young, and Carlos Mortensen.

Halftime stats

With 26 events in the books we have hit the midway point of the 2008 WSOP so we thought it would be a good time to break down some of the totals from the first 12 days of action.

U.S. players have won 22 out of 26 bracelets with Nevada the state-by-state leader with eight. New York and California have won four each whole Missouri – thanks to the Hinkle brothers, Grant and Blair – has two. Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania and South Carolina have one bracelet each.

Professionals have ruled the WSOP thus far, claiming 20 bracelets. Amateurs have four wins and semi-pros have won two.

Two players have cashed five times in the first 26 events – Russia’s Nikolay Evdakov and Tom Schneider of Arizona. Evdakov will officially become the first to cash in six events when the USD 5,000 Pot Limit Hold’em with Rebuys tournament finishes up later today. He did not make the final table, but has already secured 11th place and a USD 69,433 payday in the event, putting him on pace to challenge for the record for most WSOP cashes in a single year,“ shared by four players — Michael Binger (2007), Chad Brown (2007), Phil Hellmuth (2006) and Humberto Brenes (2006), who are all tied with eight.

Eight players have cashed four times: Jacobo Fernandez, Kathy Liebert, Craig Gray, Rolf Slotboom, Alex Jacob, Roland Isra and Chris Bjorin.

Erik Lindgren is the Milwaukee’s Best Light „Player of the Year“ leader heading into Monday’s action after capturing his first-career gold bracelet to go along with four cashes. Selbst isn’t far behind Lindgren in the standings while Jacobo Fernandez is sitting in third.

Another notable feat that can’t go unmentioned in the fact that 57-year-old Brenes became just the seventh player in the 39-year history of the WSOP to achieve 50-career WSOP cashes when he placed 14th in the USD 5,000 No-Limit Hold’em tournament. Brenes, who began his gambling career at the baccarat table, joins an exclusive list that includes Hellmuth, Men Nguyen, T.J. Cloutier, Berry Johnston, Chris „Jesus“ Ferguson and Erik Seidel.

Another star-studded final table

If there’s one final table you want to see on Monday, it’s in Event #28 where, once again, some big names are in the hunt.

Phil „OMGClayAiken“ Galfond, one of the many poker stars born online in recent years, is the chip leader in this USD 5,000 Pot Limit Hold’em tournament with 1,393,000, but is closely followed by Brian Rast (1,176,000) and David Benyamine (1,041,000). The names get even more recognizable from there with John Juanda sitting in fourth place with 694,800 and Johnny Chan in fifth with 624,000. Gerasimov Kirill is next with 558,000 while Daniel Negreanu (460,000), Adam Hourani (300,000) and 11-time WSOP bracelet winner Phil Hellmuth (119,000) in the bottom three spots.

This group is just the latest of the many power-packed final tables we have seen this year. Another one of those grand finales came in the USD 3,000 H.O.R.S.E. Championship where Jens Voertmannof Germany survived a final group that included three former WSOP gold bracelet winner in Steve Zolotow, Jennifer Harman-Traniello and Hoyt Corkins. Well-known Dutch pro Marcel Luske was also a finalist. By the way, last year the buy-in for this event was USD 2,500. Despite the USD 500 increase to USD 3,000 the event still increased in size by eight percent.